Success Highways was developed by educational scientists at the University of Wisconsin. Numerous past and current theoretical and empirical studies conducted in and out of the university setting support its efficacy. White papers outline the research foundation of the program. These include:
What is the Link Between Resiliency Skills Addressed in Success Highways and Academic Growth/Failure?
"Resiliency" refers to the range of skills and cognitive templates that students must possess to effectively navigate school and life challenges (Masten, 2001; Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990). Although many risk factors lie outside a school’s scope of influence, Success Highways assists educators in helping their students develop the resiliency, or developmental assets, they need to ensure that these risk factors do not result in school failure. Success Highways focuses on helping students build the resiliency most consistently related to academic success and failure which include:
Goal Setting: Much has been written about the importance of goals. Most recently, Paul Baltes and his colleagues have conducted longitudinal research on this topic and have found that healthier life outcomes were related to individuals who engaged in three goal-setting strategies. These strategies form the title of the researchers’ SOC (selection, optimization, compensation) model. Individuals who had higher SOC ratings selected a few goals, optimized their opportunities to achieve those goals, and compensated by switching or modifying goals when faced with adversity. Individuals using these SOC strategies had better health and well-being at later phases of life (Baltes, 1997; Lerner, Freund, & De Stefanis, 2001). Success Highways helps students to begin selecting a future life course and then to break down long-term goals into specific short-term activities that must be performed. In this way, Success Highways looks at goal-setting as a resiliency characteristic because realizing one’s aspirations occurs when one is able to create a plan for achieving one’s goals and understand the importance of education in establishing the foundations for life success.
Confidence: In the science world, academic confidence (referred to as “self-efficacy”) is defined as the degree to which a student feels capable of successfully performing school-related tasks. Albert Bandura and his colleagues found that individuals who possess higher academic self-efficacy beliefs are more likely to persist when challenged with difficult academic material, perform better during tests, and perceive negative performance evaluations as challenges to overcome rather than threats to avoid. In part, Dr. Bandura created this construct of self-efficacy after studying how people were able to overcome a fear of snakes. What he found was that the more a person felt able to manage a situation, the longer they could stay in a room with a snake and the closer they could move toward the snake. Using the same concept, students who gain academic confidence are more likely to try difficult material and continue trying until they get it right (Bandura, 1997). Success Highways offers students both understanding about how increased confidence contributes to achieving success and specific methods for developing more confidence.
Connections: A tremendous amount of research links the quality of social support systems to development and health. Most notably, research has indicated that perceived availability of social support consistently provides health benefits during times of stress. One theory argues that during times of high stress, social support acts as a buffer to protect one from becoming ill. Another theory argues that social support enhances one’s overall health regardless of stress level. Although theories may differ as to why social support works, it is a fact that having quality social support is beneficial (Cohen & Wills, 1985). In Success Highways, there is an ongoing focus on the significance of support systems and on strategies for identifying and taking advantage of both formal and informal supports.
Stress: Noted psychology professor Stevan Hobfoll argued that stress can be understood as one’s ability to conserve emotional, psychological, and behavioral resources. For example, most of us can answer a telephone. Although we have the skills needed to answer the phone, there are times when receiving and answering one more phone call will drive us crazy. In other words, while one may possess the skills needed to perform the activity, stress is often about whether one has the emotional resources needed to perform the activity (Hobfoll, 1998). Research has consistently found a very strong correlation between academic self-efficacy–confidence – and academic stress. This means that individuals with stronger academic confidence have the resources they need to manage the pressures associated with performing academic-related tasks (Solberg, Gusavac, Hamann, Felch, et al., 1998; Torres & Solberg, 2001; Solberg & Villareal, 1997). Success Highways focuses on stress management as one of the resiliency skills students must acquire to effectively confront any academic or personal road blocks they find. As described in the previous section, Connections, the “enhancing” hypothesis argues that social support also offers resources to a person to reduce the amount of pressure that person experiences (Cohen & Wills,1985).
Well-Being: Many cumulative risk factors affect health and well-being. For youth living in lower-income communities, cumulative risk factors include access to healthcare during neonatal development, birth, and childhood; quality of housing; and level of community violence. Living in situations characterized by high cumulative risk can result in chronic stress and health concerns. Some implications of this include increased drug use, risky sexual activity, and school failure (Evans, 2004; McEwen, 1998). Success Highways helps students better understand their own well being and the importance of establishing a necessary balance between relationships, school, and health.
Motivation: The model of motivation espoused in Success Highways was drawn from Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory. In their model, motivation is divided into four types – two that are related to extrinsic motivation and two that are related to volitional, self-determined motivation. Extrinsic motivation refers to performing an activity because one feels forced to do it or because one is concerned with disappointing others; extrinsic motivation results in a person performing the activity in order to avoid sanctions or guilt. Self-determined motivation, on the other hand, involves choosing to perform the behavior because it is perceived as meaningful or enjoyable (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Can a Student Learn Resiliency or Is It a Fixed Trait?
Resiliency skills can be taught and learned (Bernard, 2005). However, teaching those skills requires an approach rich in theories, human development and change. Success Highways utilizes the following theoretical approaches to build academic resiliency: Developmental Systems Theory attempts to integrate theories of human development in a comprehensive manner and can be used as a tool in the educational setting, as it prescribes strategies for constructing academic environments geared towards promoting positive self-identity systems. Self-identity is critical; the research shows that dropping out of school can be an adaptive solution for students who feel inadequate and incapable.
Social Cognitive Theory stresses that academic outcomes are greatly affected by complex systems of interaction between people, environment, and behavior determinants. Large focus is placed on the two constructs self-efficacy and outcome expectations.
Diathesis-Stress Models address the moderating and mediating factors that can lead to the potentially debilitating role of high stress on a person’s well-being. Although school-related stress can play a motivating role, when students lack the necessary coping/management skills to deal with stress their immune systems and overall well-being can suffer.
Social Integration Theory emphasizes that when students feel connected to their teachers, peers, and learning environment, they are more likely to stay in school. “Success identities” are prevalent among students who feel as though they belong within their overall school environment (Solberg, Close, & Metz, 2002).
Balfanz, R., Bridgeland, J.M., Moore, L.A., & Hornig Fox, J. (2010). Building a grad nation: Progress and challenge in ending the High School Dropout Epidemic. Civic Enterprises Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, America’s Promise Alliance.
Baltes, P. B. (1997). On the incomplete architecture of human ontogeny: Selection, optimization, and compensation as foundation of developmental theory. AmericanPsychologist,52,366–380.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W. H. Freeman.
Benard, Bonnie (2005). Breaking the barriers to achievement [Video]. Available from Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), ASCD Express, 1703 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA 22311-1714.
Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Social support and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 98, 310–357.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human development. New York: Plenum.
Denver Public Schools. (2011). Ninth Grade Summer Academy evaluation summary from 2007 to 2010. (Available from Denver Public Schools).
Denver Public Schools. (2009). [Ninth Grade Academy Cohort 1: Progress on Achievement, Engagement, and Graduation Indicators]. Unpublished raw data.
Evans, G.W. (2004). The environment of childhood poverty. American Psychologist, 59 (2), 77–92.
Gillis, S.A. (2011). A structural equation model of resiliency in adolescence. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Gillis, S. A. & Sedivy, S. K. (2008). Technical Validation Study for Success Highways. (Available from ScholarCentric).
Hobfoll, S. E. (1998). Stress, culture, and community, the psychology and philosophy of stress. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
Lerner, R. M., Freund, A. M., & De Stefanis, I. (2001). Understanding developmental regulation in adolescence. The use of the Selection, Optimization and Compensation model. Human Development, 44, 29–50.
Masten, A.S. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56, 227–238.
Masten, A., Best, K.M.,& Garmezy, N. (1990).Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 425–451.
McEwen, B. S. (1998). Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators. New England Journal of Medicine, 322, 171–179.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.
Solberg, V.S.H. (n.d.). Empirical research and underlying research framework for Success Highways. Denver, CO: ScholarCentric.
Solberg, V.S.H. (n.d.). Success Highways needs assessment report prepared for South Division High School. Unpublished raw data.
Solberg, V. S. H., & Villareal, P. (1997). Self-efficacy, stress, and social support as predictors of Hispanic college adjustment. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences,19, 182–201.
Solberg, V.S.H. (2000). Success Highways evaluation report. Unpublished raw data.
Solberg, V.S.H. (2005). Success Highways summary report. Unpublished raw data.
Solberg, V.S.H., Carlstrom, A.H., & Kowalchuk, R.K. (2001, August). Longitudinal Evaluation: School Success Intervention with Low-Income Diverse Youth. Paper presented at the 109th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, CA.
Solberg, V.S.H., Close, W., & Metz, A.J. (2002). Promoting success pathways for middle and high school students: introducing the Adaptive Success Identity Plan for school counselors. In C. L. Juntunen & D. R. Atkinson (Eds.), Counseling across the lifespan (pp. 135-157). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Solberg, V. S. H., Gusavac, N., Hamann, T., Felch, J., Johnson, J., Lamborn, S., & Torres, J. (1998). The Adaptive Success Identity Plan (ASIP): A career intervention for college students. Career Development Quarterly, 47, 48–95.
Toldson, I.A. (2008). Breaking barriers: Plotting the path to Academic Success for school-age African-American males. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc.
Torres, J.B., & Solberg, V. S. H. (2001). Role of self-efficacy, stress, social integration, and family support in Latino college student persistence and health. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 59, 53–63.